Backdoor Broadcasting has a wonderful archive of UK academic podcasts on a wide range of topics. I enjoyed listening to historian Margaret Bird from Royal Holloway, University of London, speaking on “Inculcating an appreciation of time pressure in the young: the training of children for working life in 18th-century England.”
Abstract: The rearing of children has been a topic at the centre of academic debate since the Annales historian Philippe Ariès analysed le sentiment de l’enfance in 1960.
Margaret Bird’s exploration of the tensions between respecting children as individuals and the need to hurry them into maturity for working life relates to the mercantile and manufacturing class in England. Understanding time pressure, as in expecting six-year-olds to watch the clock, formed part of their moulding as useful members of society. Time-conscious capitalism and Calvinism lay behind much of the thinking. It draws in part on the newly published diary of Mary Hardy, wife of a farmer and manufacturer.
Bird challenges E. P. Thompson’s assertion that time-consciousness was a result of industrialization. Instead she argues that during the 18th century, before the rise of large-scale industrialization, middle-class mercantile families had a strong consciousness of time and inculcated it into their children from a very early age. She uses as her source the family diary of Mary Hardy (see website), the wife of a Norfolk farmer, master and brewer. She kept a diary for 36 years, running to half a million words, detailing family life and business operations on a daily basis.A second diary penned by her apprentice covers four of those years. Working on the Mary Hardy diaries has been a long-term project (25 years!) for Margaret Bird, who has editted and published them in a four-volume set, with a detailed commentary to come.
It’s a lively presentation by someone who obviously loves her project, well-integrated into the academic literature. The website has the powerpoint images that were shown during the presentation, and the question time that follows.